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Syrian regime 'on brink of collapse', claims former PM Riad Hijab

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Protesters in the village of Sarmin in Idlib province, Syria (AP)

Protesters in the village of Sarmin in Idlib province, Syria (AP)

In this Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012 photograph, Syrians on a motorcycle pass by a destroyed shop in town of Atareb outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

In this Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012 photograph, Syrians on a motorcycle pass by a destroyed shop in town of Atareb outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Khalil Hamra

In this Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012 photo, Free Syrian Army soldiers hold their weapons during clashes with government forces in at the south-west district of Salah al-Din in Aleppo, Syria. Syrian troops launched a ground assault Wednesday on the besieged northern city of Aleppo, but activists said rebels forces were fighting back in a battle for the country's largest city that has raged for more than two weeks. (AP Photo/Alberto Prieto)

In this Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012 photo, Free Syrian Army soldiers hold their weapons during clashes with government forces in at the south-west district of Salah al-Din in Aleppo, Syria. Syrian troops launched a ground assault Wednesday on the besieged northern city of Aleppo, but activists said rebels forces were fighting back in a battle for the country's largest city that has raged for more than two weeks. (AP Photo/Alberto Prieto)

Alberto Prieto

A Syrian man holds bullets he picked from a wall in a damaged house in town of Atareb outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo)

A Syrian man holds bullets he picked from a wall in a damaged house in town of Atareb outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo)

AP

In this Sunday Aug. 5, 2012 photo, a couch is seen  in a damaged room in a destroyed house in town of Atareb on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo)

In this Sunday Aug. 5, 2012 photo, a couch is seen in a damaged room in a destroyed house in town of Atareb on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo)

AP

In this Sunday Aug. 5, 2012 photo, destroyed shops are seen in the town of Atareb  on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

In this Sunday Aug. 5, 2012 photo, destroyed shops are seen in the town of Atareb on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Khalil Hamra

In this Monday, Aug. 6, 2012 photo, a Free Syrian Army fighter waves from the top of a destroyed army tank in the town of Anadan on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

In this Monday, Aug. 6, 2012 photo, a Free Syrian Army fighter waves from the top of a destroyed army tank in the town of Anadan on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Khalil Hamra

A Syrian boy looks at the bodies of nine Syrians on a truck after they were found dead in an open field and taken to the town of Anadan outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

A Syrian boy looks at the bodies of nine Syrians on a truck after they were found dead in an open field and taken to the town of Anadan outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Khalil Hamra

A Syrian boy stand in the rubble of a destroyed police station at the border town of Azaz, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Aleppo, Syria July 29, 201

A Syrian boy stand in the rubble of a destroyed police station at the border town of Azaz, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Aleppo, Syria July 29, 201

Turkpix

In this Tuesday, July 24, 2012 photo, Free Syrian Army soldiers are seen at the border town of Azaz, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Aleppo, Syria. Turkey sealed its border with Syria to trucks on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 cutting off a vital supply line to the embattled nation as fighting stretched into its fifth day in the commercial capital of Aleppo. (AP Photo/Turkpix)

In this Tuesday, July 24, 2012 photo, Free Syrian Army soldiers are seen at the border town of Azaz, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Aleppo, Syria. Turkey sealed its border with Syria to trucks on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 cutting off a vital supply line to the embattled nation as fighting stretched into its fifth day in the commercial capital of Aleppo. (AP Photo/Turkpix)

Turkpix

In this Friday, July 27, 2012 photo, armed Syrian rebels stand beside a destroyed Syrian army armored vehicle in Homs, Syria. It has been a difficult two weeks for the Syrian government with rebel assaults first on the capital, Damascus, and then on Aleppo, as well as several high-profile defections and a bomb that killed four top security officials. (AP Photo/Fadi Zaidan)

In this Friday, July 27, 2012 photo, armed Syrian rebels stand beside a destroyed Syrian army armored vehicle in Homs, Syria. It has been a difficult two weeks for the Syrian government with rebel assaults first on the capital, Damascus, and then on Aleppo, as well as several high-profile defections and a bomb that killed four top security officials. (AP Photo/Fadi Zaidan)

Fadi Zaidan

In this Friday, July 20, 2012 photo, destroyed Syrian army armored vehicles are seen in Aleppo, Syria. It has been a difficult two weeks for the Syrian government with rebel assaults first on the capital, Damascus, and then on Aleppo, as well as several high-profile defections and a bomb that killed four top security officials. (AP Photo/Fadi Zaidan)

In this Friday, July 20, 2012 photo, destroyed Syrian army armored vehicles are seen in Aleppo, Syria. It has been a difficult two weeks for the Syrian government with rebel assaults first on the capital, Damascus, and then on Aleppo, as well as several high-profile defections and a bomb that killed four top security officials. (AP Photo/Fadi Zaidan)

Fadi Zaidan

In this Tuesday, 24 July, 2012 photo a destroyed Syrian tank is seen in Idlib, Syria. It has been a difficult two weeks for the Syrian government with rebel assaults first on the capital, Damascus, and then on Aleppo, as well as several high-profile defections and a bomb that killed four top security officials. (AP Photo/Fadi Zaidan)

In this Tuesday, 24 July, 2012 photo a destroyed Syrian tank is seen in Idlib, Syria. It has been a difficult two weeks for the Syrian government with rebel assaults first on the capital, Damascus, and then on Aleppo, as well as several high-profile defections and a bomb that killed four top security officials. (AP Photo/Fadi Zaidan)

Fadi Zaidan

In this image made from amateur video released by the Ugarit News and accessed Monday, July 23, 2012, a Free Syrian Army soldier reacts during clashes with Syrian government troops in Aleppo, Syria. The Syrian regime acknowledged for the first time Monday that it possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and said it will only use them in case of a foreign attack and never internally against its own citizens. (AP Photo/Ugarit News via AP video) TV OUT, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CANNOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE CONTENT, DATE, LOCATION OR AUTHENTICITY OF THIS MATERIAL

In this image made from amateur video released by the Ugarit News and accessed Monday, July 23, 2012, a Free Syrian Army soldier reacts during clashes with Syrian government troops in Aleppo, Syria. The Syrian regime acknowledged for the first time Monday that it possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and said it will only use them in case of a foreign attack and never internally against its own citizens. (AP Photo/Ugarit News via AP video) TV OUT, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CANNOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE CONTENT, DATE, LOCATION OR AUTHENTICITY OF THIS MATERIAL

Anonymous

In this image made from amateur video released by the Ugarit News and accessed Monday, July 23, 2012, a Free Syrian Army soldier reacts during clashes with Syrian government troops in Aleppo, Syria. The Syrian regime acknowledged for the first time Monday that it possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and said it will only use them in case of a foreign attack and never internally against its own citizens. (AP Photo/Ugarit News via AP video) TV OUT, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CANNOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE CONTENT, DATE, LOCATION OR AUTHENTICITY OF THIS MATERIAL

In this image made from amateur video released by the Ugarit News and accessed Monday, July 23, 2012, a Free Syrian Army soldier reacts during clashes with Syrian government troops in Aleppo, Syria. The Syrian regime acknowledged for the first time Monday that it possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and said it will only use them in case of a foreign attack and never internally against its own citizens. (AP Photo/Ugarit News via AP video) TV OUT, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CANNOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE CONTENT, DATE, LOCATION OR AUTHENTICITY OF THIS MATERIAL

Anonymous

In this Sunday, July 29, 2012 photo, medics help a wounded man at the border town of Azaz, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Aleppo, Syria. The U.N. said 200,000 Syrians have fled the embattled city of Aleppo since intense clashes between regime forces and rebels began 10 days ago. The government forces turned mortars, tank and helicopter gunships against rebel positions on Monday, July 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Turkpix)

In this Sunday, July 29, 2012 photo, medics help a wounded man at the border town of Azaz, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Aleppo, Syria. The U.N. said 200,000 Syrians have fled the embattled city of Aleppo since intense clashes between regime forces and rebels began 10 days ago. The government forces turned mortars, tank and helicopter gunships against rebel positions on Monday, July 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Turkpix)

Turkpix

In this Sunday, July 29, 2012 photo, Free Syrian Army soldiers are seen at the border town of Azaz, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Aleppo, Syria. The U.N. said 200,000 Syrians have fled the embattled city of Aleppo since intense clashes between regime forces and rebels began 10 days ago. The government forces turned mortars, tank and helicopter gunships against rebel positions on Monday, July 30, 2012. Arabic writing on the truck reads, "the movement of Islamic bombings is from the writings of Sheikh Ibn Taymiyyah." (AP Photo/Turkpix)

In this Sunday, July 29, 2012 photo, Free Syrian Army soldiers are seen at the border town of Azaz, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Aleppo, Syria. The U.N. said 200,000 Syrians have fled the embattled city of Aleppo since intense clashes between regime forces and rebels began 10 days ago. The government forces turned mortars, tank and helicopter gunships against rebel positions on Monday, July 30, 2012. Arabic writing on the truck reads, "the movement of Islamic bombings is from the writings of Sheikh Ibn Taymiyyah." (AP Photo/Turkpix)

Turkpix

People carry a body of a person killed in clashes in Aleppo, Syria, Friday, July 27, 2012.   (AP Photo/Alberto Prieto)

People carry a body of a person killed in clashes in Aleppo, Syria, Friday, July 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Alberto Prieto)

Alberto Prieto

In this Sunday, July 29, 2012 photo, medics help a wounded man at the border town of Azaz, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Aleppo, Syria. The U.N. said 200,000 Syrians have fled the embattled city of Aleppo since intense clashes between regime forces and rebels began 10 days ago. The government forces turned mortars, tank and helicopter gunships against rebel positions on Monday, July 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Turkpix)

In this Sunday, July 29, 2012 photo, medics help a wounded man at the border town of Azaz, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Aleppo, Syria. The U.N. said 200,000 Syrians have fled the embattled city of Aleppo since intense clashes between regime forces and rebels began 10 days ago. The government forces turned mortars, tank and helicopter gunships against rebel positions on Monday, July 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Turkpix)

Turkpix

In this image made from amateur video released by the Ugarit News and accessed Tuesday, July 24, 2012, a Free Syrian Army solider fires his weapon during clashes with Syrian government troops in Aleppo, Syria. Turkey sealed its border with Syria to trucks on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 cutting off a vital supply line to the embattled nation as fighting stretched into its fifth day in the commercial capital of Aleppo. (AP Photo/Ugarit News via AP video) TV OUT, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CANNOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE CONTENT, DATE, LOCATION OR AUTHENTICITY OF THIS MATERIAL

In this image made from amateur video released by the Ugarit News and accessed Tuesday, July 24, 2012, a Free Syrian Army solider fires his weapon during clashes with Syrian government troops in Aleppo, Syria. Turkey sealed its border with Syria to trucks on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 cutting off a vital supply line to the embattled nation as fighting stretched into its fifth day in the commercial capital of Aleppo. (AP Photo/Ugarit News via AP video) TV OUT, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CANNOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE CONTENT, DATE, LOCATION OR AUTHENTICITY OF THIS MATERIAL

Anonymous

In this Tuesday, July 24, 2012 photo, a damaged Syrian military tank is seen at the border town of Azaz, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Aleppo, Syria. Turkey sealed its border with Syria to trucks on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 cutting off a vital supply line to the embattled nation as fighting stretched into its fifth day in the commercial capital of Aleppo. (AP Photo/Turkpix)

In this Tuesday, July 24, 2012 photo, a damaged Syrian military tank is seen at the border town of Azaz, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Aleppo, Syria. Turkey sealed its border with Syria to trucks on Wednesday, July 25, 2012 cutting off a vital supply line to the embattled nation as fighting stretched into its fifth day in the commercial capital of Aleppo. (AP Photo/Turkpix)

Turkpix

Protesters in the village of Sarmin in Idlib province, Syria (AP)

The former Syrian Prime Minister yesterday delivered a withering assessment of the regime's grip on power, describing it as on the brink of collapse with President Bashar al-Assad's forces in control just a third of the country.

In his first public appearance since fleeing the country, Riad Hijab, the most senior civilian official to defect so far, said others prominent figures were waiting for their moment to do the same.

"The regime is collapsing, morally, materially and economically," he said, speaking in front of a revolutionary flag at a press conference in the Jordanian capital Amman. "Militarily it is crumbling as it no longer occupies more than 30 per cent of Syrian territory."

The former agriculture minister, who held the position of prime minister for just two months, urged the army to follow the example set in Egypt and "take the side of the people".

Analysts said that despite not being a key member of Assad's inner circle, Mr Hijab – who the US said would no longer be subject to sanctions – is likely to have had some access to briefings on the military situation on the ground.

The Free Syrian Army said Mr Hijab's statement on the Syrian army's control was broadly accurate, but stressed that it did not mean that the majority of the country is under its control.

"We agree that more than 60 per cent of Syria is out of the control of the regime," said the FSA logistical co-ordinator Louay al-Mokdad. "We are not saying that we are controlling it – it's out of control of anyone because there is war and battles every day."

With reporting in Syria restricted, verifying such claims is difficult. However, daily battles rage in most of the towns and cities that stretch along the country's western flank – from Aleppo in the north, through Homs and Hama to the capital Damascus and Deraa in the south. Rebels have also made gains in the Sunni heartland of Deir Ezzor in the east.

However, Jeffrey White, a military analyst specialising in Syria at the US-based Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Mr Hijab's assessment "understates" the Syrian army's presence.

"Even in an area like Idlib province where it's generally considered the Syrian army is not in control of broad swathes, you still see the presence of regime forces, " he said.

With much of the country engulfed in fighting, the UN emergency relief co-ordinator Baroness Amos arrived in Damascus yesterday to attempt to mitigate the unfolding humanitarian crisis.

Many civilians struggle to get food, water and medical care and residents of Homs say they spend hours every day waiting in line for bread, risking their lives just leaving the house. Many lack funds after being out of work for months due to the conflict, but large areas also suffer severe supply shortages and prices have skyrocketed.

Baroness Amos – who said around 2.5 million Syrians are in need of assistance – is pushing the regime to allow better access for aid agencies. However, any progress will remain stymied by the security situation on the ground.

Already isolated internationally, the regime suffered a further blow yesterday, as a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation voted to suspend Syria.

In an increasingly sectarian conflict, rebels released a video of a man they claimed was a member of the Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah, which is allied with the Syrian government and Iran. Black-eyed, bruised and surrounded by three armed FSA fighters, Hassan Meqdad "confessed" to being a sniper sent to Syria by the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah as part of a 1,500-strong force. Hezbollah and Mr Meqdad's family denied he was a member of the group.

Meanwhile China has accused some Western countries of seeking regime change in Syria and said their increasing support for rebel forces in the civil war hurt the solidarity of the United Nations Security Council.

The remarks in the official People's Daily newspaper came as China hosted an envoy of Assad for talks. No details of the talks were released.

China and Russia have repeatedly used their veto power at the security council to block strong Western- and Arab-backed action against Assad. Moscow is a key ally of Assad, and China cites its own stance against military intervention.

The Communist Party's People's Daily repeated China's position that the only solution to the Syrian crisis was a political one and criticised some Western countries' open discussion of a no-fly zone as undermining a multilateral approach led by outgoing UN peace envoy Kofi Annan.

"This destroys the internal unity of the security council, causing the international community to be unable to reach consensus and for Annan's mediation efforts to be unable to play a role," the paper said in a commentary.

"All kinds of indications show that the rumours that some Western powers are looking outside the framework of the United Nations for a solution to the Syrian problem are not baseless."

Belfast Telegraph


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